Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Boys will be boys or the BBC in winter

If there is one theme running through the programming I've watched this Christmas and New Years season, it's Boys will be Boys.  Never more than during the long doldrums of December and early January has the telly and particularly the BBC shown that while they still want us to learn something, they have chosen to do so by give us a few lads on the lash, sometimes literally. I don't object to this for a second, as a man I love the idea that I can have fun doing something uplifting, if you're a woman watching this stuff you wonder how come Clare Balding has to be so damn serious all the time. Even when she's serene and happy it's a self satisfied sigh rather than the sheer joy of being alive you get from the lads outings. Even the most introspective of the road trips and lads shows, THE TRIP, was a series of late suppers where two grown men mugged and japed their way through impressions and every conversation I've ever had since I was 12. Frankly I have loved every second of it. I can't wait till I'm famous enough to get paid to take a week off with some mates and "discover" the sights sounds and flavours of wherever.

What made TheTrip so compelling was that it was clear from the outset that both men were using the occasion to have all those talks they normally don't get to have, what with their big schedules. Every massive question in their lives got touched on. Why are we friends, are you really happy in your work, what would you do in your absolutely no holds bar  programme, and of course solve the age old dispute, how to do a proper Michael Caine impression.  It took my wife a few eps to get into it, but once she understood it was a long conversation between two artists, comedians and actors, it clicked to her that it wasn't just two in between commissions personalities wasting time. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are allegedly reviewing restaurants and on the surface are, but what really is happening is the all time best bigger dick contest you'll ever see on telly. If you have the pull and the contacts, try hosting  2 or more comedians, writers, musicians, and sit back and watch. The show you see is the kind of thing that hardly ever gets seen on stage, on screen or on air. A pity really as it's the bare bones of why these people got into show business in the first place. If you ever wondered how something gets written and where some of the best ideas come from, watch this as and when it's repeated.

The next entry in this category of  testosterone fuelled one upmanship and three amigosness is Top Gear.  Captain Slow, The Hamster and Jezza take a road trip through the Eastern United States then a few days later travel through the Holy Land. The magic of the Top Gear road trips is simple, three best mates have something to prove to each other and the producers. Along the way we get to see a few incredibly childish men bicker over who is in fact the biggest baby, and yet it's far from that simple. These are three genuinely close friends who trust each others enough to let down any pretence or defensive barriers they would hold up to any body else. I could tell you all the cool stuff I learnt about the cars, and I did learn plenty, I could prattle on about the merits of one car over the other , but I won't. But I will tell you that these three truly are, reliable deeply committed friends and don't take to being betrayed at all. Former Stig Ben Collins, probably had no idea what kind of hornets nest of anger he's unleashed with his book. He could have gone on for years collecting a tidy pay, being famous, in a manner of speaking, and collaborating with three of the best friends he could have had ever. Instead, he's jumped ship to FIVE's Fifth Gear, where frankly no one will watch. There will be a new STIG and |Ben Collins won't be allowed near another A list star in this lifetime. Oh but I am rambling on a bit. The highlight of the high jinx during the US road trip show was the burning, shooting , decapitation, peeing on and generally abusing of the former Stig by Clarkson, May and Hammond. Not to worry dear reader, I'm sure there is a new Stig in the works, we even saw the baby Stig in Jerusalem, a purer more loyal one for sure.

That Middle East Special was typical Top Gear, but somehow lacked the punch and danger of the Bolivia or North Pole specials. Still a great bit of fun showing the truth behind the myths of several insecure places and the peaceful nature of whole areas we just assumed were " like the rest of the place". Besides the usual and highly entertaining modifications and course changes, the Middle East special  also took careful aim at the more insane "realities" of travelling into Israel from other countries. Not withstanding the actual people of Israel, it would seem the regulations bar you if you've been to "enemy" countries, so they had to avoid the fans they surprisingly ( or not so surprisingly ) have in Syria.  If you know how to decode Top Gear road trip films, they will focus on things if they are sufficiently worthy of pointing out. In the case of the great wall of peace Israel is building, Top Gear made damn sure we had time to look at it and wonder why it's ok to do that but not ok in Berlin. Top Gear is not political , but always takes pains to make sure we are aware that when they travel trough an area, they don't just happily  pass through and ignore the reality on the ground, especially if that reality is not always the most complimentary to the host country. Unlike some programmes, Top Gear does not wish us to stick our fingers in our ears and sing ting a ling a loo.

David Suchet on  the Orient Express, was a trip of a different sort . His voyage from London to Prague was only possible with the reopening of the old European travel corridors closed for decades by war and dictatorship. The trip of a lifetime for Suchet included the chance to drive the train and visit part of the cars you'd normally never get to see. I think he was spared the need to participate in some horrid murder mystery  dinner theatre silliness with tourists, but sign autographs for fans was a small price to pay to ride what can only be described as the celebrity a plus plus first class voyage. One day I too will be able to ride this train, but I doubt I'll be able to get the sort of treatment Hercule Poirot received.

While David Suchet was more small boy in awe Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar is more two grown men trying to catch each other out in a quest to get the best drinks for their side of the bar. The sense of cricket fair play in a series of sometimes frankly silly challenges makes this two man pub crawl both informative and mouth watering. The most awe inspire prize had to be the honour of not having to empty the chemical toilet. Despite these games or perhaps because of them, I suspect the small breweries and speciality stops will have a much appreciated bump in sales and appreciation they had hither too only dreamed off. It's nice to see Oz  when he looses so gracefully and reacts more annoyed than gutted reminds of a big brother who feels he has to at least try to seem like he's lost something fairly important to the buzzing fly that is Hugh. Best bit is the seemingly endless stream of strange recipes designed to cure hangovers or prove you are a man. I personally would love to have the special brew mead and the Northernmost wine in England seem like lovely easy to resupply tipple. If you've been watching both this and Three men go to Scotland, you'll know there may have been a race to visit the most isolated pub in Britain. I suspect the note from the three men is funnier than the fact I told you who got there first. The consolation however is that Hugh and Oz go to the smallest pub in the world at least, run by a slightly barmy priest if I recall correctly, it was worth the visit.

Three men go to Scotland starring best mates Griff Rhys-Jones (master sailor), Rory McGrath  ( whiskey expert) and Dara O Briain really smart man with a freakishly large head.  During their trek to do a backwards Johnson, visit of the Hebrides, and spend a lot of time doing feats of strength and trying not to be too much trouble to sea captains. Highlights include the humiliation of a young Scotsman in a row boat race, Rory getting quiet adept at popping open whiskey kegs and Dara staying well clear of trouble. Drink, sailing , caber tossing and outdoor survival with three funny best mates proved yet again an irresistible combination. This formula works because unlike most of us who only now ever just walk up the street with our mates, these lads ( grown men) set of on an adventure and do the sorts of things we always wanted to do but couldn't  as our children, wives, sedentary mates are too soft, to easily scared or just more interested in staying in and watching more telly or playing a video game. I don't know what sorts of adventures women dream of, but I'm sure if a series were put together where three ladies with time on their hands was made, it would be equally good to people  with purses.

Not forgetting the always versatile Dara, he next turns up in three nights of astronomy. Stargazing live, which continues tonight. Let me say right from the top that a framed photo of Sir Patrick Moore somehow does not seem enough when you assemble the best minds in Astronomy currently working in the field. That said, "sexy" Proff. Cox ( that's my wife talking there) and the hitherto unknown, smart Dara O Briain, are a brilliant hosting combo from the first night. What struck me as funny was realizing that after 60 years of science on the BBC, we are full circle and have returned to paper mache models on stick and Dara's freakishly large head standing in for Earth. And you knew it was LIVE didn't you? Several brilliant moments of stumbling on words followed by cloudy skies and last night the poor sod stood outside missing a meteorite falling when he had his back turned. Not sure if If share the faith the strange man had for noises from the Sun. Like all things and movements, there are reactions, and disturbances in the matter around the moving matter, but to say that there is a noise in space is bollocks. Jonathan Woss stands in for all the divs out there who are too thick or too easily distracted. During his segments Wossy helps fill a few minutes while real science is tested and checked before they go live on air. Liz Bonnin, the only girl on the show as far as I can tell, reminds me of our weather lass on Look North Newcastle, always up for a trek onto a cold mountain or the lip of a volcano she'll even brave mixing with a bunch of geeks with hand assembled telescopes. That I knew about the apparently rare and seldom mentioned double quasar must mean I'm more of a geek than I thought, but that's a good thing I think. Proff Brian Cox had a few made for youtube moments, when he was given the chance to flog his own upcoming specials , he had the good taste to seem mildly embarrassed, how very English of him. Then he sits down to explain the rotation of planets and gravity.... by resorting to the highly scientific mancentric salt shakers and sugar bowls approach of explaining the off side rule, when it was still possible to explain the off side rule. THe segment on sci fi films and the later bit where we discussed using the gravitational pull pull of planets  had me among thosands thinking...Captain Kirk did that  in...Hope the Gallifreyans make the broadcast tonight. I am LOVING IT. Stargazing live  is the sort of geek fest in primetime the BBC should be applauded for. More please, don't stop now.

A break now to list the canny bits of telly we should all have watched.... Qi Xl where HarryPotter is decapitated,  Hercule Poirot in the dark but well made Murder on the Orient Express, Countryfile winter special, John Sargeant's Railway journeys, Upstairs Downstairs, Down town Abbey, Doctor Who Crimbo special, and.....

Eric and Ernie and all things Morcambe and Wise, was a tasty treat for any comedy fan over the age of 30. I grew up on these two and other comedians of their ilk, nice to know they had the force of nature called Saide "Ernest Wiseman's Mum" working for them.  Yet another Jew who made the world laugh and in so doing, made the world a better place to be. The big lesson of course was twofold, Northern humour is just fine, and trust your material if it got you as far as it had that they wanted you on telly. Watching back some of the things like the 1977 Christmas special was a bit of a time capsule, and the jokes  while of the distinctly old fashioned variety, were still funny. It's the light hearted sarcasm and fatalism my family has engaged in since I was  sperm and perfectly normal to me.  The even better, less filtered stuff that made Morcambe and Wise so Northern is the very soul of ethnic, Polish, Jewish, Irish  etc... humour. It let's you know that no one, no matter how high born or skilled or handicapped, is free of the scrutiny only friends and family can give you.

Would have had this up sooner but had to stop to watch the Ashes live. To those of you who think it's dull and watching paint dry is more fun, I'll never convince you, for the rest of you, Collingwood has lost his touch, Alistair Cook and Bell excelled and Prior is hopefully going the same way. Shameful the way they tried to cheat Cook early in his batting, as for Bell's not out, I'll stick to the final call being correct. Some of the sporting spirit seems a bit in short supply on the Oz team but  the fans of both sides embraced the pink theme for a good cause.  A few more nights of little or no sleep and barring a disaster, we will have won the series. 

Did I miss anything else????? Hogmanay was mostly watching films off the iPlayer and taking chances on things I'd missed first time around.... In fact in  Crooked House, the BBC's deserved flavour of the year Mark Gatiss, fronts this scary trio of stories that made my wife want to crawl under her duvet and may have reduced her to a shivering ball of jello, I am by marital obligation and being honourable, barred from revealing more. If you like a good scary story, catch this one before it goes boo off the iPlayer.

Things back to normal service now, I'm feeling much better and the The TV Guide even has decent offering from ITV, so take care what you watch , but there is plenty out there. Laters all, time to put some more funny stuff on while I help my wife bake.  ( we are down to our last crust of bread )

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